Thursday, May 18, 2017

Before We Were Yours

Before We Were YoursBefore We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 1939, twelve-year-old Rill Foss lives with her parents, three younger sisters, and a toddler brother in a ramshackle shantyboat on the Mississippi River near Memphis, Tennessee. All is well in their world until the stormy night when their father has to rush their mother to the hospital across the river in a frantic attempt to save both her and the twin babies she's struggling to bring into the world. The next morning, while Rill and the fifteen-year-old ward of their family friend are in charge, the police come and force the five siblings into a car, saying they are taking the children to visit their folks in the hospital. Rill knows this is a lie but is powerless to prevent her siblings from being kidnapped and taken to the Tennessee Children's Home Society orphanage where Rill, her sisters, and her brother are plunged into a nightmare of abuse and separation.

In present-day South Carolina, Avery Stafford is a privileged daughter of a prominent family, a successful attorney, and engaged to marry a lifelong friend. While home helping her father the senator get through a health crisis, an elderly woman in a nursing home mistakes her for someone else...and changes Avery's life forever. Buried family secrets lead Avery to question who she is and what she wants in her life.

Rill and Avery's stories are told in alternating chapters, urgent and riveting, their paths slowly converging in ways both inevitable and unexpected. Bittersweet, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful.

4.5 stars, but I'm rounding up because the .5 off is solely due to my incomprehension over why the present-day characters feel the past should remain a secret. Who cares if it becomes public knowledge that nearly 80 years ago children were kidnapped and sold to adoptive families? The perpetrators are long since dead, and the victims deserve to have their stories told. How would it harm the senator if people knew his mother had been one of those children? This makes no sense to me.

For readers' advisors: all four doorways are strong, especially character & story. In some ways it qualifies as a "clean read," but the subject matter might not be what readers are looking for if they ask for that. The novel is based on real-life events wherein Georgia Tann ran a Memphis-based adoption organization that elevated the perception of adoption and orphans while simultaneously ripping families apart as she coordinated the kidnapping and sale of impoverished children to wealthy families across the country from the 1920s to 1950. Thousands of children endured horrific abuse, and hundreds died (or were killed).

I do not recommend reading this novel at bedtime because you won't be able to put it down, and if you did manage to put it down, you'd lay awake thinking about it instead of sleeping. Or at least, that's what happened to me!

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for letting me read an advanced reader's copy (ARC) in exchange for my honest review.

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